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Thais Cast a Wide Net for Diverse Tourists


8/5/2013

Published on Aug 5, 2013

BANGKOK — Tolerance, the Thais have learned, is good for business.

In recent advertising and marketing campaigns, the government here in “the land of smiles” has actively gone after categories of tourists that for reasons of political sensitivity or outright discrimination are shunned in some neighboring countries.

It is the only Asian country, travel industry analysts say, that has a government-sponsored campaign — “Go Thai. Be Free.” — aimed at gay and lesbian travelers.

Thailand, which is overwhelmingly Buddhist, is also marketing itself to Muslims as a place where food prepared according to Islamic precepts is readily available and where “halal spas” offer separate facilities for women and men. All the leading shopping malls and the beach resort city of Pattaya have Muslim prayer rooms — a far cry from the widespread anti-Muslim feelings in neighboring Myanmar.

The country’s efforts to welcome a broad array of travelers dovetail with longstanding laissez-faire attitudes and traditions of hospitality. But inclusiveness also pays: tourist arrivals have surged in recent years, notably from many predominantly Muslim countries, and the 22 million visitors last year were double the level of a decade ago. Tourism earned the country more than $31 billion last year, according to government statistics.

“We live in a country that is open and pretty liberal — I can’t think of a market that we wouldn’t welcome,” said Wisoot Buachoom, the director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s office in the northern city of Chiang Mai, which has seen a rise in Muslim travelers in recent years.
Thailand’s campaigns might not raise eyebrows in the West. But among its immediate neighbors, laws against homosexuality and religious or ethnic hostilities keep some tourists away.

Malaysia and Indonesia, both Muslim-majority countries, bar Israelis from visiting for political reasons. Thailand, by contrast, has long been one of the most popular destinations for Israeli travelers, with 120,000 Israelis visiting Thailand in 2012.

Read the full story from The New York Times

 

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